From Investigation to Implementation

Building a Program
for the Large-Scale
Digitization of Manuscripts


Developing a "Conservation for Digitization" Workflow

In the past, conservation for archival materials was undertaken when the archivist processing a collection found an item in need and worthy of repair, at which point it would be transferred to the Conservation Department and mended. Given the volume of materials involved in a large-scale digitization project, we determined that this workflow would be inefficient, and instead created a "conservation for digitization" workflow. Instead of relying on the processing archivist to identify and flag materials in need of conservation repair, all materials in the collection were reviewed by conservation staff. A student worker in the department paged through every folder in the collection, fixing items as needed.

Repairs to the materials were undertaken with a very light hand—only materials for which the tear compromised the intellectual content or the ability of it to be stabilized for digitization were mended. Some materials, mostly newspaper clippings, were determined to be unsuitable for digitization due to the large amount of conservation work required to stabilize them and the fact that their informational content is available elsewhere.


Conservation staff maintained careful statistics for the materials they repaired from first series of the Thomas E. Watson Papers they reviewed, Series 1. Correspondence. Work was completed between September 2007 and January 2008.

Total ItemsTotal Linear FeetTotal TimeItems MendedTime Per ItemTime Per Linear Foot
84347.5~40 hrs7283 minutes5 hours 20 minutes

Conservation for Future Projects

At the completion of conservation work on the Thomas E. Watson Papers, the process was reevaluated and the workflow adjusted. For future large-scale digitization projects, conservation staff will review the entire collection in the aggregate, meaning that they will do a brief assessment of the condition of the collection, and at that point, assuming the collection is in fair to good shape, materials will go straight to digitization. At this point, the person responsible for the digitization process will identify individual items in need of repair.